March's Sustainability Champion: Don Edmonds
Don is a senior studying Geography and Environmental Studies at University of Richmond. He also interns with the Office for Sustainability. Read more about his involvement in sustainability on campus:
What made you want to study Geography and Environmental Studies? What is one of the most significant things you've learned from these programs during your time at UR?
Coming into my freshman year here, I really had no idea what I was going to study. But with some guidance from my academic adviser, I ended up taking two classes that really impacted me. The first class was an FYS called “The Rhetorical Lives of Maps” with Dr. Timothy Barney, and the second class was “Intro to Geographic Information Systems (GIS)” with Professor Kim Browne. Between these two classes, I learned the importance of a geographic perspective and the power of spatial analysis. And I loved it. It was an easy decision from there to choose a Geography major. And after a couple more geography classes, I realized that people are tied to their environments and also that environments are tied to their people. They are inseparable and should not be studied separately. And so I decided to pursue an Environmental Studies major as well.
I think one of the most significant things I’ve learned from these programs is the importance of empathy. In order to solve these really big and daunting issues our world faces, you need to be willing to listen to everybody, especially the people you disagree with, in order to understand where they’re coming from and why they believe what they believe. I think if we all just made some effort to understand where people are coming from, the world would be a much better place.
Why did you get involved in Earth Lodge and how has being part of it impacted you?
I was introduced to Earth Lodge my sophomore year through the SSIR “Protected Lands of the American West” taught by Dr. Todd Lookingbill and Dr. David Kitchen. This living learning community has been one of the best experiences I have had in college. Not only did I get to travel to some absolutely beautiful places in the American park system and learn how to approach really complicated environmental issues, but also some of my best friends have come out of this community. It helped me find a niche on this campus.
Can you describe the Supergroup and what you're doing with that?
Sometime last year, our Director of Sustainability, Rob Andrejewski realized that while there were clubs and organizations doing good environmental work on campus, they were all isolated from each other. So he came up with the idea of the “Supergroup”. The purpose of the Supergroup is to bring together the leaders from various organizations on campus involved in sustainability in order to update and collaborate with each other. Part of my job has been to organize this group and help facilitate conversations between organizations so that we all can all work together as team rather than individually.
After graduation, you're planning to hike the Appalachian Trail. What do you hope to gain from the experience?
There are a lot of different reasons I want to hike the AT, like the fact that I love being in the outdoors, that I’m hiking with one of my best friends, and how I’m looking forward to a time of much needed reflection after graduation. But the reason that appeals to me the most is the fact that it is going to be difficult. I’ve realized through other hiking/camping experiences I’ve had that nature offers a lot of life lessons that are hard to find otherwise. I expect that hiking and completing the Appalachian Trail will leave a valuable imprint on my character and give me a better perspective of who I am and my place in this world. And I think it will be an important source of strength for me in the future when things get difficult. If I could hike 2000 miles through fatigue, harsh weather conditions, hunger, homesickness, etc., then I can probably handle the other stuff life will throw at me.
What advice would you give students who are interested in getting involved in sustainability?
There are plenty of ways to get involved! We need students who are willing to help push this university toward a more sustainable path. Even if you aren’t working directly under the Office for Sustainability, there are a bunch of other organizations students can join: GreenUR, Earth Lodge, The Geography Club, Greeks Going Green, Spiders CARE, Richmond College Student Government Association, and Westhampton College Government Association. Plus we’re always looking for volunteers! These are the formal ways a student can get involved, but students can have a lot of influence through informal channels as well. For example, through conversations with their peers about why “Trayless Fridays” at the Dining Hall are a good thing or by speaking up in their classes about why climate change is a serious issue.
How has your involvement with sustainability at University of Richmond influenced your plans for the future?
While I’m still not sure what I’m going to be doing after my gap year, my involvement with sustainability here at UR along with the awesome students, faculty, and staff I get to work with have solidified my desire to work in the environmental field. I’ve gone back and forth if my career in the environmental field will look more like me in an office setting working to make an institution more sustainable like Rob Andrejewski does here or more like hiking out in the woods somewhere helping others fall in love with nature like people have done for me. Probably the latter. But either way, I’m excited to see where I end up moving forward.